Candidates for at-large positions on Easthampton council offer views on sanctuary city, other issues

  • Easthampton City Council candidates Joseph McCoy, from left, Cinzia Pica-Smith, Owen Zaret, Margaret Conniff, Daniel Carey, Jared Hinkle and William Lynch IV listen to a question during a candidates forum Thursday at Easthampton High School. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • William Lynch IV

  • Joseph McCoy

  • Cinzia Pica-Smith

  • Owen Zaret

  • Margaret Conniff

  • Daniel Carey

  • Jared Hinkle

Friday, October 13, 2017

EASTHAMPTON — The seven candidates running for an at-large seat on the City Council differed over whether Easthampton should become a “sanctuary city” at a forum Thursday night.

Some candidates said the conversation about the designation that would prohibit the use of city’s resources for federal immigration enforcement should continue, while others think the measure could have adverse affects on the community.

Only one candidate, Cinza Pica-Smith, said something needs to be put in place codifying the city’s stance on not using its resources for federal immigration enforcement.

The possibility of an ordinance that would protect undocumented immigrants in the city from deportation was discussed and tabled last winter, but the topic arose again in recent weeks with a petition with more than 700 signatures urging City Council to pass an ordinance or mayor to issue an executive order.

The candidates also weighed in on the need for senior housing, city zoning and land conservation during the forum at Easthampton High School. The event was hosted by Easthampton Media.

The seven candidates are vying for four at-large seats. They include incumbents Joseph McCoy, Daniel Carey and Margaret “Peg” Conniff, and newcomers William Lynch IV, Owen Zaret, Pica-Smith and Jared Hinkle.

Joseph McCoy

McCoy, a veterinarian and co-owner of Sage Meadow Farm, is seeking his seventh term on the council.

Over the years, Easthampton has seen success, McCoy said, but there has also been challenges. He said he wants to foster economic development, but also keep Easthampton an affordable place to live in.

He said there’s a need for affordable housing development. The state level requires a minimum of 10 percent of affordable housing, but Easthampton is at 7 percent, McCoy said. This means a developer can come and develop on land the city may wanted to conserve.

“This could be the beautiful field we want to keep,” McCoy said.

While land conservation is important, McCoy said water protection is a top priority, noting that Easthampton has partnered with Southampton to preserve land above the Barnes Aquifer and formed the position of a shared conservation agent.

Cinzia Pica-Smith

Pica-Smith, an associate professor of human services and rehabilitation studies at Assumption College, said she would bring an important perspective to the council. She said her expertise is in child, family and community wellness, and she focuses on social justice and community development.

When it comes to the sanctuary city designation, she said there needs to be something that codifies what the city’s police department is already practicing. She said she supports the resolution passed by the School Committee this summer that spells out the rights of undocumented students as well as protocols for Immigration and Custom Enforcement access to schools and information about students.

Piza-Smith said the city needs to protect its vulnerable populations.

She said older buildings need to be restored to keep areas in Easthampton from being developed. This would spark growth while conserving land, she said.

Owen Zaret

Zaret, a physician assistant at Holyoke Medical Center, said his 15 years in health care has given him the skills to listen, collaborate, problem-solve and act.

He said the city needs to have a zoning plan in place for recreational marijuana.

“We need a place to stay when people are visiting here,” Zaret said.

When questioned on whether to issue a sanctuary city measure, Zaret referenced the July ruling of the Lunn v. the Commonwealth case where the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that court officers cannot arrest someone based on their immigration status.

To tackle the need on senior housing, Zaret said officials need to develop a sustainable plan for the senior community that also have relevance for those who will be seniors in the next 20 years. 

“We need to reach out to other communities that might face similar challenges and see what they have done,” Zaret said.

Margaret ‘Peg’ Conniff

Conniff, director of automation solutions at UnitedHealthcare, is seeking her second term on the council. 

She said she supports conserving the land near Mt. Tom. 

She said there needs to be a discussion on what the city should do in terms of housing, and what to do with the old mill buildings.

“One of our challenges is where do we develop, where do we not develop,” she said.

Conniff is in support of revising the city charter to change the mayor’s term from two years to four years. She said it would allow the mayor more time to focus on projects rather than campaigning during for a large portion of the term.

Daniel Carey

Carey, director of the drug diversion and treatment program for the district attorney’s office, is seeking a second term on the council. 

“I love the direction that Easthampton is heading and want to continue to be a part of it,” Carey said.

He said the problem with senior housing is money, as many elderly residents live on fixed incomes. Carey said there needs to be a discussion on what the solution is to bring more housing to the city, possibly creative ways to put in tax breaks.

Since hundreds of people signed a petition urging a sanctuary city measure to be put in place, and the public was spilt on the issue, Carey said “it’s a conversation that needs to continue.”

Jared Hinkle

Hinkle, a shift supervisor at Ryder Transportation, served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and earned a Purple Heart.

“When I came home it gave me a feeling of how great our country is,” Hinkle said. “And it was great to find a place like Easthampton.”

He said he doesn’t think the city should issue a sanctuary city measure.

“The problem just isn’t here,” he said.

In door-to-door canvassing the community, Hinkle said one of the concerns was an increase in taxes if the school building project is approved next year.

William Lynch IV

Lynch, store manager of Stop & Shop in West Springfield, said he brings a lot to the table in terms of finance and management. And he’s pro-union.

“I’m for the working class,” Lynch said. “I’d rather cut a supply budget than a job.”

Lynch said a sanctuary city measure could put a “target on our back,” adding that President Donald Trump has said he will cut federal funding to sanctuary cities.

He said should look at utilizing retail space on Main, Cottage and Union streets as serious opportunities for the marijuana industry.

Lynch also said that the senior housing in Easthampton is important, adding that everyone will grow old and retire.

“This affects everyone in this room,” Lynch said.

Caitlin Ashworth can be reached at cashworth@gazettenet.com.